Monthly Archives: November 2016

Maldives and The Secret

As the Maldives opens its inhabited islands to tourism, Heidi Fuller-love island hops and meets locals in three remote destinations.

My coccyx squeals as the tatty speedboat bucks and thumps us over the waves to Maafushi in the Kaafu Atol. Used to this brutal form of transport, Mohammed lounges on the bench next to me humming a song dedicated to Al-Sultan Ghazi Muhammad Bodu Thakurufaanu, the sea captain who liberated The Maldives from Portuguese conquerors in 1573.

I’ve been to many exotic destinations, but often felt that they’d been over-hyped. The Maldives, however, are as good as in the brochures: beneath our boat the water shimmers clear as turquoise glass as we bump across the waves, past tiny islands set in the sparkling sea like green egg yolks surrounded by the blue-white waters of their coral lagoons. “Most people come here for the diving – it’s the best in the world,” says Mohammed, who I met whilst waiting in line to take this ferry to his island.

Although tourists began to visit the Maldives in 1973, travellers were only allowed to stay on the resort islands and the only Maldivians they encountered would be cleaning their rooms, or serving them dinner. Luckily, a few years ago, ex-President Nasheed authorised islanders to open guesthouses. Nowadays it’s possible to live like a local in the Maldives and pay money directly to the people who live here. Unlike ‘most people’ who make a beeline for the luxury resorts, I’ve come to the Maldives to visit some of the lesser known islands and meet locals like Mohammed.

I arrived at Ibrahim Nasir International airport the day before. It was a hot June afternoon, humidity was fierce and my clothes were soaked with sweat by the time I hopped aboard the traditional wooden dhoni boat that chugged me over to Male.  Traditionally known as the King’s island, because it was the seat of the dynasties that ruled here for centuries, few tourists bother to spend time in the capital of the Republic of the Maldives and yet this tiny city, which measures only one square mile, is well worth a visit.

I wandered through narrow streets lined with trees that were heavy with lumpy black growths that turned out to be fruit bats, flapping overhead as I walked. In another bustling street I entered a shop decorated with balloons and tinsel garlands and discovered dozens of excited children whose parents welcomed me with sticky fried banana cake and invited me to join their circumcision party. Later I saw the little boy who’d been operated sitting pale, but proud, in his bed surrounded by presents.

Best Resort In Pas de la

Pas de la Casa’s ski area merged with neighbouring resort Soldeu in 2004 to form the giant Grandvalira area, opening up more than 200km (124 miles) of piste that’s served by a huge network of state-of-the-art, high-speed lifts.

It’s the largest ski area in the Pyrenees by some distance and has become one of the world’s leading ski regions. In fact it has grown so big that pistes have been extended over the border into France.

But as big as the ski area is, it’s the village’s border location, duty free status and snow sure altitude that have been, and continue to be, the key ingredients of Pas de la Casa’s success. The resort also benefits from often warmer, sunnier conditions than centres in the Alps, thanks to its southerly latitude and relative proximity to the Mediterranean.

Despite a gradual move upmarket and increasing amalgamation into the Grandvalira ski area, the resort maintains its strong independent identity and reputation as a base for hardcore snow sports fans and après-ski devotees; perhaps more than any other Andorran ski village.

Location:

Pas de la Casa ski resort is part of the Grandvalira ski area, which takes up much of the northeastern region of the small principality of Andorra. Andorra is sandwiched between Spain to the west and France to the east in the Pyrenees mountains, and is about 160km (100 miles) north of the Mediterranean Sea.

Website:

www.grandvalira.com

Slope Elevation
Pas de la Casa
Resort:
1710m
Top:
2640m
Base:
1710m
On the slopes

Pas de la Casa has an excellent English-speaking ski school and wide, sunny slopes on which to learn; so it’s a good choice for beginners. Once those first turns have been mastered, there are numerous easy green runs on which to totter around. The largely easy-to-ride high-speed detachable chairlifts or walk-in gondolas take beginner skiers back up the slopes without needing to master the dreaded drag lift too early on.

Progressing on to the wider Grandvalira area, roughly two-thirds of the terrain is in the form of wide, fast blues and reds above the treeline, which are perfect for confident intermediates.

Experts, meanwhile, have more than two dozen black runs, including the toughest run, the 2km-long (1.2 miles) Avet No Fifteem. Accomplished skiers can also try heli-skiing, or an off-piste powder course with the ski school when snow conditions are right.

Despite its southerly latitude, the high altitude of the Grandvalira ski area, its mostly north-facing slopes, and its extensive snowmaking have been proven to provide snow cover over much of the terrain even in poor snow years. The ski season in Pas de la Casa typically runs from early December until late April.

Grandvalira and the other Andorran ski area, Vallnord (which covers three resort bases at two other ski areas), participate in the Ski Andorra lift pass, which is valid at any ski area in the principality.